Academic journal article Child Welfare

Introduction

Academic journal article Child Welfare

Introduction

Article excerpt

The importance of stable housing and economic security in a child's life cannot be overstated. Children living in owned or affordably rented homes consistently fare better on health, developmental, and academic variables than their precariously housed peers. Home ownership reduces the transmission of intergenerational poverty, promotes educational attainment, and increases parental satisfaction, happiness, and well-being, which translate into clear benefits for children (Scanlon & Page-Adams, 2000).

The conditions imposed by poverty and homelessness unsettle families and place children at risk of a multitude of unhealthy outcomes. According to the Urban Institute, 1.35 million children experience homelessness each year (Burt et al., 1999). Hundreds of thousands of other children are housed but live in substandard or overcrowded housing and, as a result, are at greater risk of disease, serious injuries, hunger, or educational failure (Jones, 1998).

Not surprisingly, many of these children and their parents become entangled in the child welfare system. Inadequate housing is a major factor contributing to the placement and retention of children in foster care. In fact, in terms of reunification, even substance abuse is not as important a factor as income or housing in determining whether children will remain with their fami lies (Jones, 1998). At least one study has shown that a greater than expected proportion of birth cohort of children (61%) who went into foster care by age 5 in Philadelphia had been homeless (Culhane, Webb, Grim, Metraux, & Culhane, 2003).

In addition, young people aging out of the child welfare system must confront the harsh reality of the gap between the wages they are qualified to earn and the cost of housing. These young people are leaving the foster care system and entering the ranks of the homeless at a rate of 12% to 25% per year (Courtney & Piliavin, 1998; Westat, 1991).

This special issue of Child Welfare depicts the intersection of housing and child welfare. It draws attention to America's affordable housing crisis, making clear and candid links between housing stability and child well-being. Readers will find studies documenting the scope of the housing problems encountered by families and young people in the child welfare system and the common constraints that all too often block child welfare workers' best efforts to respond appropriately to the primary presenting problem of homeless and low-income families-a need for safe, decent, and affordable housing.

More important, this journal includes concrete solutions and practical information for professionals on how to develop the partnerships necessary to provide for the concrete housing needs of children, youth, and families in their communities.

Although the authors do not specifically address the major legislative reform efforts under way on Capitol Hill, such as the Child Protective Services Improvement Act introduced in 2003 and the Child Safety, Adoption and Family Enhancement Act introduced in July 2004, this journal is intended to contribute to and urge child welfare reform. The work presented here is intended to prompt a national dialogue on the partnerships and resource sharing between the housing and child welfare systems necessary to truly reform America's child welfare system.

Without drawing heavily on the knowledge and tools offered by America's housing and community development professionals, states will continue to struggle to meet the mandates of safety, permanency, and well-being put forward in the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997. Furthermore, communities' efforts to end child and family homelessness will not be successful without the full participation of the child welfare system.

No one system can or should be expected to bear sole responsibility for our children's well-being. In this special issue, authors call for communities to be comprehensive in their treatment of families and responsive to their needs in the context of socioeconomlcs by drawing on the expertise, resources, and tools of multiple community sources. …

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